I purchased this and Alligator at the same time, fed up with Amazon nagging me that I would really like this band. Well I didn't. I found both albums dreary and I really couldn't stand the baritone singer. And then. It all hinged on me sticking my ipod on random play. I was walking along a down-at-heel South London high street when the Geese of Beverley Road (from Alligator) came on. I was entranced. It was the drumming that drew me in. A marvellous unpredictable drum pattern. I hungered for more. I started playing Boxer. Then I started playing Boxer a lot. Then more. Then to the exclusion of everything else. I may have calmed down a bit now, but it is still one of the most frequently played things I have. And thats after two years of high exposure. This is most definitely an album that NEEDS repeated listening. Most of the songs have been my favourite at one time or another but to pick out three: the crashing and thrusting (and heartbreakingly pessimistic) Mistaken For Strangers, the beautiful, disturbing Green Gloves and the elegant closer Gospel. I was wrong about the band, I was wrong about the voice. Amazon was right. I really love this band.
on 21 May 2008
The National stand on the outer fringes of youth and with 'Boxer' create a woozy requiem for all that is lost in what Berenger calls "the unmagnificent lives of adults". Darker, denser, more soulful album than 'Alligator', 'Boxer' stands as a magnificent whole, drawing the listener into its soundscapes and its world painted in impressionistic word pictures. Berenger's narrator is always distant, disconnected from the lives he narrates, even when he's so obviously the subject, a distance sometimes enforced, sometimes self-induced, sometimes frankly voyeuristic. Oftentimes he sees what's happening but can't break in to change things to make the happy ending he so earnestly desires.
From the outset there's a strongly percussive sound to 'Boxer' drums to the fore, moving things along with almost military precision. 'Fake Empire' sets out the stall for the album both musically and lyrically as Berenger observes the world around him sleepwalking through life, distracted from reality by life's little pleasures and entertainments. And as he shouts - don't you see what's happening? - the deepest pain comes from knowing that yes, people know just what's happening and have chosen this.
'Racing like a pro', one of two songs featuring Sufjan Stevens on piano looks on in disbelief at an old friend who's sold out' to the corporate world:
"Your mind is racing like a pro, now
oh my god it doesn't mean a lot to you
one time you were a glowing young ruffian
oh my god it was a million years ago"
Elsewhere there are recurring themes of broken relationships, lovers who can't let go, lovers who've brought it on themselves, doomed one night stands. And drunkenness to dull the pain is everywhere, as in 'Apartment Story' he asks his lover - can we shut out the world? 'Gospel' quietly echoes that theme and closes the album in appropriately melancholy mood, with the percussion for once taking a back seat as an old friend asks - can I come over to your place, and can we keep the demons at bay together?
on 6 July 2007
This is easily the best album I've heard this year, or in recent years for that matter (its up there with Tv on the Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain),the songs Fake Empire, Mistaken for Strangers,Apartment Story and Start a War and the rest have reaffirmed my belief in music and that there is actually an intelligent,mature band making music to get excited about.People have mentioned them sounding like Arcade Fire, I think its more a case of sharing some of the same influences really. I'd say they sound a little bit like Leonard Cohen singing with Interpol(bass and drum sound-wise),with elements of Pulp, Joy Division and Springsteen(Nebraska). But the great thing is they don't sound too much like any of those bands,but have a very subtle,unique sound that is the best thing I've heard since Funeral.
on 29 August 2008
Boxer is one of the best albums I own. It was lent to me last year by a friend after I complained I wanted some new music to listen to. If you feel the same, you will not go wrong if you buy, borrow or steal this masterpiece by The National.
I'd never heard a single song of theirs before sticking this CD in the player and sitting back. And to be honest, like many reviewers before me, the songs didn't strike me as anything special. The first track, Fake Empire, certainly was immediate, and I found that one mesmerising, at least. It took repeated listens to fully get into and appreciate the rest of the album, and that's the truth. Often when people say 'oh, it took me ages to like this' it means they tried, and they still don't really like it that much. Or it has done in my case! It's easy to give up on something, to throw it aside when you figure there's nothing to gain from persisting - but with Boxer, don't let this happen, don't be fooled. There is immense beauty and honesty to be found in every single song.
Perhaps you'll slip it into the CD player in your car and you're driving so you can't change it and you listen, really listen, and find yourself drawn in. The tales woven here, of love, friendship, life, uncertainty, truth, will seep into your mind and you won't be able to shift them. Mistaken For Strangers, Guest Room, Slow Show, Start A War, Green Gloves. The finely wrought angst and longing will make you take notice, when you're least expecting it. Just the note of a chorus or the tone of Matt Beringer's voice - that's all it takes, and that's all you need. And you'll get out of the car wondering why you never noticed it before.
This was my experience, and actually I'm sorry I won't be able to repeat it, now that I know the album much better. I loved the initial discovery. It's been a slow-burn love affair that's still going strong, and I would highly recommend anybody else who enjoys and appreciates excellent music to be seduced.
on 22 February 2008
Having bought "Alligator", the previous album by The National, and being so unimpressed by it my (anonymous) Amazon review currently has 43 "unhelpful" markings next to it. I therefore completely ignored "Boxer" for several months after its release.
Only by catching a youtube clip of the band playing "Fake Empire" on the David Letterman show did I do one almighty double take. Was this really the same band? The sound was definitely the same, but my main objection of old (namely singer Matt Beringer's occasionally clumsy lyrics) had been wiped away in around 3 minutes of The National crafting a brilliant, understated, glorious and elegant hymn to...well, whatever "Fake Empire" is actually about (I confess, I don't know).
Was the album going to be as equally as impressive? Well it is. It's actually superb. I can't believe it's the work of the same band - or, as you might quite rightly argue, surely they've always been this great and I'm the one with cloth ears.
Either way, I strongly recommend "Boxer". It is an indie album where you should relish the pleasure in slowly understanding it. The songs are not immediate, in-your-face anthems. Each songs' highlight is so subtle you might miss it the first time around - but there is intelligent, well crafted musicianship here (particularly in Bryan Devendorf's impressive drumming - which is never fussy, but actually has a personality all of its own) and an impressive collection of well sequenced songs.
It's a rich, complex record - and that it was ignored in end of year polls by magazines such as Uncut and Mojo is a travesty. This is music you'll still be learning a year from now.
According to Paul Banks, "New York cares", but the tales that The National seem to create in `Boxer' paint a somewhat different picture of the big apple. Most likely tales about being away from New York and losing touch with friends (`Green Gloves' contains the lyrics "Falling out of touch with all my/friends are somewhere getting wasted/ hope they're staying glued together/ I have arms for them", which are some of the most significant lyrics in the record). Matt Berninger's soothing yet "very, very frightening" vocals are the setting for the record, giving everything else something to stand on, and create on. The lyrics that he puts across are quite simply, incomparable.
Similar to the first time you hear The Smiths, you don't recall hearing anything so subtle, anything that tells such a realistic tale of some modern day touches. The first lines in `Boxer' tell their own story, and win the listener over instantly with their charm, "Stay out super late tonight/ picking apples, making pies/ put a little something in our lemonade and take it with us" manage to put an apt image into your head, rebellion. And Berninger instantly becomes expert, sharp and most notably, cool.
When listening to `Boxer' you can sometimes feel the need to become Berninger. All his tales of drunken mistakes, the honesty that he portrays in his lyrics, he seems like a fictional character, someone that you'd dream of being. Almost an idol in his own right. But this record isn't all about his talent. Rarely is an album so easy to listen to, so easy to understand, so comforting. Unlike the previous record, The National seem at home here, more at rest than you might be when you first hear it all. Most songs contain driven piano and precise instrumentation but `Mistaken For Strangers' keeps all of this while rocking out at the same time, it's quite possibly the strongest track out of all 12.
However `Slow Show' may well come through as the piece of music that jumps itself higher than the rest, a simple tale of mistake suddenly turns into a love song with a change of chords as well as theme, "You know I dreamed about you/ for twenty-nine years before I saw you" manages to do more to you than other lyrics in the song, being something that a listener who has experienced love could fully relate to. Previously mentioned opener `Fake Empire' does the same, it contains a charm in it which could make itself likable to anybody if they tried hard enough.
In the second half of the record, it drifts off into its own world, with the possibility of making the listener feel out of place. But this only means that the listener has more to discover. Classical guitar flows beautifully in `Ada' and the delicate touch of `Gospel', which closes the record, sums up that this is a personal collection of songs which all blend with eachother to create an album of sophisticated importance, something to merit forever. Sure the kids won't find much in it, but just unveil it to them when they've discovered love, tuxedos and wine.
on 29 May 2007
If you've heard any of their previous material, the first listen to Boxer regales you with fresh but oddly familiar sonic landscapes. It's perfectly possible to appreciate that these landscapes have been exposed in greater detail this time round. On second listen, these landscapes sound less familiar, and the detail starts the lengthy process of revealing itself to you, if you're really listening. By the time you get to the third or fourth listen the album becomes compelling.
The arrangements superbly underpin the evident beauty of these songs - they're carefully layered and interweave around the washes of delicate strings or guitar-based atmospherics, understated piano and guitar lines, and punchy, insistent drum patterns. The vocal deliveries remain wonderfully the right side of lugubrious as before.
The lyrics are what you'd expect - wistful, laconic, witty, slightly unnerving... "Oh, you wouldn't want an angel watching over you; surprise, surprise - they wouldn't want to watch!"
Standout tracks? All of them. Can't name one below par song, and although the beautiful drift towards the end of the record (Guest Room, Racing Like A Pro, Ada, Gospel) leaves you in a wonderful space at the end of the record, the others are so compelling and necessary for the building of a coherent whole.
The National's previous album, Alligator, received critical acclaim but precious little commercial success. If Boxer doesn't redress the second part of the equation then there is nothing much else that they can do.
Because, make no bones about it, Boxer is a fantastic record. As subtle as the Arcade Fire are grandiose, The National are everything that a modern rock band can aspire to be. The exquisiteness of the music is more than matched by the brilliance of the lyrics and evidence of that can be found on the likes of Brainy and there are songs with a genuine chance of mainstream appeal like Mistaken For Strangers which, in the space of three and a half minutes, blows away anything that, for instance, Editors have ever come up with.
The Editors comparison is a salient one in more ways that one given lead singer Matt Berninger's rich voice. Critically though his voice may be distinctive but it's never distracting; its fits in perfectly with the ambiance of the album.
If anything "bad" can be said about the record it's that it perhaps tails off slightly towards the end, but there's been so much sustained brilliance to listen to that it doesn't really matter all that much.
Quite simply this is an absolute gem.
on 7 December 2007
This wonderful record is rightly getting heaped with praise by others on this page and I understand US Indie Bible "Paste" has called it the best album of 2007 in its annual round-up.
I agree with all of that and just wanted to add, for the benefit of anyone reading this who may be new to The National, that this band will provide a great pleasure to anyone who, like me, might be pining for the next Tindersticks record, whenever that might be. To these ears, The National combine the mature distress, which Tindersticks manage to conjure so effortlessly, with the desperate urgency of Editors in their best moments. Anyone who might consider that a particularly beguiling combination (and I sincerely hope there's someone who does) will not be disappointed by the majestic rumble and sheer nobility of "Boxer". Fans of Nick Cave and Mark Lanegan will have arrived at the right place as well.
I cannot recommend "Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers" or the "Cherry Tree" EP highly enough either. In fact, I quite envy anyone who has the pleasure of hearing this great band's music for the first time ahead of them. Have fun and get ready for a long affair.
on 16 June 2010
I'd heard so many great things about The National just after this record was released, and I vividly remember the first time I heard Mistaken For Strangers on the radio and thinking "I think it'd be wise to take a look at these guys." So since this was the album everyone was raving about it was naturally my first purchase.
But upon listening to it the first time I'd thought I'd made a terrible mistake: it just sounded absolutely impenetrable. Fake Empire just sounded broken and out of time to me, and the only stand out other than Mistaken For Strangers seemed to be Appartment Story - an excellent three and a half minute romp that sounded like it had about half a dozen hooks. So I was incredible disappointed.
But, I preservered and then went and listened to Alligator and it all started to make more sense. Songs that were once anonymous grew into standouts. Squalor Victoria was no longer a futile build towards nothing, the build WAS the song, a beautiful piano hook leading to a simple hook in the style of a toast at a meal. Brainy, Green Gloves and Slow Show were no longer just dreary murmurs but touching tales of desire, affection and anxiety.
Of course upon many listens Matt Beringer's excellent lyrics rose further and further to the forefront of the excellence on show. Slow Show ("You know I dreamed about you; twenty-nine years before I saw you") and Brainy ("You might need me more than you think you will") are prime examples and describe someone heartachingly dependent on someone else but unsure of how to express that.
Ada is my personal favourite though, just for it's simply word-play and how it fits the melody of the song.
This album is definitely one to recommend. However, if you are completely new to The National then you can take one of two strategies with this record: either buy it and stick with it even thought you may not "get it" at first, or start off with either Alligator or High Violet and then return to this record - that way you may be able to appreciate the ideas on show here more immediately.
Either way, this is an essential piece of work.